Clem Sunter

Dear Mangaung Delegates

2012-12-13 13:04

Clem Sunter

Dear Mangaung Delegates,

All eyes in South Africa are on you as you wend your way to the ANC conference in Bloemfontein. Please heed the offer made by 33 of the country's top business leaders in an advertisement in a Sunday newspaper. I know many of them - they are people of integrity who have been successful on account of their talent at picking the right strategy and then, most importantly, turning that strategy into action.

Not one of them is trying to manipulate policy in any particular direction nor achieve any mischievous outcomes.  All they want to do is assist you in converting your policy, as set out in the National Development Plan, into reality and turn South Africa into a winning nation. They have issued a call for action, of which they want to be a part, in order to overcome the one weakness this country has had for a long time: a penchant for producing fine plans but never implementing them properly.

We now have a common vision to create an economy three times the present size by 2030, while bringing down unemployment to 6% and making significant inroads on reducing poverty and inequality. Trevor Manual and his team of commissioners are to be congratulated on putting plenty of flesh onto this vision with their carefully constructed report. However, the government cannot make the vision happen by itself. It needs contributions from business, labour and civil society generally.

The business leaders undertook to promote "a zero tolerance approach towards bribery, fraud and corruption and anti-competitive business practices". Moreover they committed themselves to "engaging with government and other public sector parties to foster ethical business behaviours necessary to create a modern, efficient and competitive economy that supports the growth of small, medium and micro enterprises which are crucial to job creation."

Why don't you hold them to these words and, either through an established channel like Nedlac or through a new channel altogether, construct a series of measurable outcomes to which you can hold them - as well as the other parties involved - accountable? After all, the President has stated via his spokesperson that he will continuously engage business in the new year, and here is a golden opportunity to provide real substance to those engagements.

I would like, finally, to remind you what constitutes a "winning nation" since it was the Anglo scenario team that first came up with the definition in 1987. There are six elements:

- High Education. Standing on the brink of the knowledge-intensive 1990s, I used to emphasise that the foremost characteristic of a winning nation was the quality of its education system. Nothing has changed since then. If anything, the IT revolution has made the world even more knowledge-intensive;

- Work Ethic. As I said at the time, it is not adequate to be knowledgeable: you have to work hard too, but there are four conditions for people to be willing to work hard. The first is small government. A marvellous Chinese proverb says: "Govern a great nation like you cook a small fish: don't overdo it". The second, third and fourth conditions are a sound family system, low taxation and absence of corruption;

- Mobilisation of Capital. Having people who are knowledgeable and work hard is not enough: one has to give them resources as well. This requires not only inducing a national savings habit but also putting in place a system that effectively delivers the savings to where they are most needed. In particular, the small business and informal sector should get their fair share;

- Dual-Logic Economy. As our team prophesised at the time, the new technologies would design both blue-collar and white-collar workers out of the system. They have since done so in virtually every developed and emerging economy in the world. Hence, there is a need to create a symbiotic relationship between the formal economy of big business and the informal economy of small business - especially via supply chain management schemes whereby small business manufactures components and big business assembles the final product. The logic of the two economies has to be integrated;

- Social Harmony. You cannot have one half of a nation at odds with the other half. As we said at the time, you cannot have millions of angry black citizens but neither can you afford to have angry coloured, Asian or white citizens. You have to find something which satisfies South Africans as a whole; and

- Global Player. Lastly, as we observed, "it is those nations that look outwards that win". Nations that look inwards die. "You have to play by the global rules of the game even if you are a superpower. And so for South Africa to bow out of the global race is the craziest notion of all." It still is.

There you have it. We can only become a winning nation by co-operating with one another. Please bear this in mind when you debate economic policy at the conference.

Yours sincerely,

A Patriot Fox

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